Guide to Perhentian Islands: Dive, Snorkel, Repeat

Kat snorkeling in Perhentian Islands
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People weren’t kidding when they said that Perhentian Islands is a must-see in Malaysia. I went here on a long weekend trip and it’s been amazing! Here’s everything you need to know about Perhentian Islands.

About Perhentian Islands

Perhentian Islands is a group of islands in the northeastern side of Malaysia. “Perhentian” is a Malay word for “stop”. It was a stopover location for trade between Malaysia and Bangkok.

Perhentian Islands used to be a fisherman’s village and today it is mostly a tourism spot. However, it isn’t that popular yet! So it’s a great place to visit if you’re looking for less-crowded islands in Asia.

Perhentian Islands has beautiful beach shores and a jungle home to various flora and fauna. It’s also a great diving destination, so it attracts a lot of tourists who want to get PADI certified or further explore the underwater scene in Malaysia. Perhentian Islands is decently developed with various resorts and restaurants, but it remains clean and pristine. To keep its condition, it is declared a Marine Park.

Perhentian Islands is composed of 2 main islands: Perhentian Kecil (“kecil” or small) and Perhentian Besar (“besar” or big). These are your options when it comes to choosing a place to stay. There are also small islands, namely, Susu Dara Island, Serengeh Island, and Rawa Island, which you can visit during tours.

Katherine in Rawa Island
On the island hopping tour in Perhentian Kecil.

My experience: Before getting on the practical details of this place, here are my views about Perhentian Islands. I went here for a long weekend. To be honest, I didn’t have high expectations because I’d seen the beaches in Malaysia and most of them aren’t up my standards. Moreover, a blogger friend had been here and she said it was, “Just okay.”

Imagine my amazement on actually seeing Perhentian Islands. The beaches are so beautiful — even the main beaches where the resorts are located. In some areas, you can snorkel right form the shore and see fishes and corals! I met another tourist who said she hadn’t been on a tour yet, but she’d gone snorkeling around the island and she’d seen turtles, manta rays, and various fishes.

In my opinion, Perhentian Islands is one of the most beautiful places in Malaysia — you can even say, in Southeast Asia.

Perhentian Kecil or Perhentian Besar?

Perhentian Kecil is the best option for budget travelers. It has two main beaches — Long Beach and Coral Bay.

Long Beach is a 1-kilometer stretch of beach that houses most of the island’s budget accommodations, restaurants and bar, and dive shops. At night, it offers nightlife where you can party or meet fellow travelers.

Beach area in Perhentian Islands

Coral Bay is located on the quieter part of Perhentian Kecil. Stay here if you want to keep your trip within the budget but without the party scenes.

Coral Bay in Perhentian Islands

Meanwhile, Perhentian Besar is ideal for families and couples. It offers more comfortable accommodations, although campsites and hostels are also available.

Perhentian Kecil and Perhentian Besar are located close to each other. There are taxi boats running back and forth between these islands all day.

How to get to Perhentian Islands

Kuala Besut is the gateway to Perhentian Islands. You need to get to Kuala Besut jetty for the fast boats to either Perhentian Kecil or Perhentian Besar.

From Kuala Lumpur, there are several ways to get to Kuala Besut.

Option 1: Direct bus to Kuala Besut

From Kuala Lumpur, hop on a bus bound to Kuala Besut (duration: 8-9 hours, price: about RM46). These buses are limited though, so if you’re going on a long weekend, make sure to book a month in advance to ensure you can get seats.

From the Kuala Besut bus terminal, walk for 5-10 minutes to the jetty.

My experience: I had booked for a long weekend to Perhentian Islands. Unfortunately, a full 3 weeks before the date, all TBS-Kuala Besut tickets were sold out so I booked for a TBS-Kota Bharu instead and then took a taxi from there. The taxi rate is the same as Grab’s.

For the return trip, I was lucky to chance upon the last seat direct from Kuala Besut to TBS.

Option 2: Via Kota Bharu

Kota Bharu is the closest province to Kuala Besut.

  • Ride a bus to Kota Bharu (8 hours, RM44). From Kota Bharu Bus Terminal, transfer to a CityLiner bus to Kuala Besut (RM6, 1.5-2 hours). Schedule starts at 6:30AM and the bus departs every hour. Alternatively, you can also take a taxi or Grab (around RM70, 1 hour).
  • An alternative is to book a flight to Kota Bharu. From the airport, there are vans bound to Kuala Besut. Fare is RM25 and travel time is only 40 minutes. You can also take a taxi or Grab (RM90-120).

Option 3: Via Kuala Terengganu

This route is a last option, if you have failed to book transport to either Kuala Besut or Kota Bharu. Transport options are not as frequent as that in Kota Bharu.

  • Ride a bus to Kuala Terengganu (RM44, 7 hours). From the bus terminal, ride an SP Bumi bus to Kuala Besut.
  • An alternative is to book a flight to Kuala Terengganu. From the airport, there are buses bound to Kuala Besut, departing every hour starting at 7AM.

Jetty to Perhentian Islands

The Kuala Besut Jetty is the only jump-off point to Perhentian Islands. It is complete with accommodations, restaurants, and shops. It also has a parking lot where you can leave your car.

From the jetty, get a round-trip ticket to Perhentian Islands. Travel time is 1 hour. Round-trip fare is RM70 – but the price also fluctuates between RM60 and 80 depending on the season. Marine Park Fee is RM30 per person.

The boats depart hourly from 8AM to 5PM. The return boats have limited schedule (8AM, 12PM, and 4PM). During high season including holidays, boats go to the islands as early as 7AM and return to the mainland as late as 6PM.

For the return trip, make sure to inform your accommodation or directly text the fast boat company about what time and which beach to pick you up, a day before or in the morning of your departure.

When to visit Perhentian Islands

Like other beach destinations in western Malaysia, Perhentian Islands is closed from November to February/March due to monsoon season and open from March to October only. Peak season is from June to August.

What to do in Perhentian Islands

There are many things to do in Perhentian Islands, from trekking to island hopping, snorkeling, and diving.

1. Go on a boat tour

There are 2 tours offered in Perhentian Kecil: island hopping and snorkeling.

The snorkeling tours are the most popular. You’ll visit various locations where you can spot manta rays, sharks, sea turtles, and various fishes in the wild. I find it fascinating because I don’t see a lot of manta rays or sea turtles, but for the island locals they are regulars!

The snorkeling tour also has one of the most beautiful beaches I’d seen — the Romantic Beach. (I lived in the Philippines for years, so take my word for it.)

Snorkeling in Perhentian Islands, Malaysia
Snorkeling in Perhentian Islands.
Romantic Beach in Perhentian Kecil, Perhentian Islands, Malaysia
Romantic Beach.

Meanwhile, the island hopping tour lets you see the smaller islands. Snorkel in Serengeh Island, swim in the crystal-clear turquoise water of Tukung Buring Island, and float away in Rawa Island. I prefer this tour even though it is shorter (4 hours vs 5 hours in snorkeling tour) because it has fewer people and the beaches are amazing.

Rawa Island, Perhentian Islands, Malaysia
Rawa Island.
Katherine in Tukung Burung Island
At Tukung Burung Island.
Tukung Burung Island, Perhentian Islands, Malaysia
Tukung Burung Island.
Clear water in Tukung Burung Island
Clear water in Tukung Burung Island. It reminded me of Maldives.

Here are the details of the boat tours.

Snorkeling – short trip Rate: RM30-40

Places to visit:
Turtle Point
KK Bay Fish Point
Shark Point

Schedule: Morning or afternoon (2-3 hours only)
Snorkeling – long trip Rate: RM50

Places to visit:
Turtle Point
KK Bay Fish Point
Shark Point
Fishing Village for lunch
Light house
Romantic Beach

Schedule: 10:30AM to 3:30 or 4PM
Island hopping tour Rate: RM60
Places to visit:
Serengeh Island
Tukung Burung Island
Rawa Island + Lighthouse

Schedule: 10:30AM to 2-3PM

Rates may differ depending on season and boat operator. Rental for snorkel and lifevest rental is included. Some tour operators also include lunch. If not, there is a stopover in the fishing village where you can buy cheap meals (around RM5-10).

If you’re staying in a non-touristy part of Perhentian Island during low season, you might want to ask about the tours first. I stayed in Rainforest Beach which is a bit non-touristy even on a long weekend, and there weren’t enough guests to fill the quota of 4 people for the island hopping trip. It’s a good thing a local talked to the boatman directly and the latter organized for other tourists from another beach to join us.

2. Snorkel on the beach

You can also just snorkel right out on the beach. The best places to snorkel in Perhentian Kecil are along the edges of Long Beach and Coral Bay. In Perhentian Besar, go around the pier.

Snorkeling in Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

3. Dive and get PADI certified

Perhentian Islands is one of the top diving locations in Malaysia, alongside Redang Island and Lang Tengah Island. It’s ideal for new or advanced divers and it’s one of the cheapest places to get PADI certified.

Some of the best diving sites in Perhentian include:

  • Sugar Wreck
  • Temple of the Sea
  • Tanjung Besi
  • Shark Point
  • Vietnamese Wreck
Blacktip sharks in Perhentian Besar
Blacktip sharks in Perhentian Besar.

4. Kayak

Most resorts offer kayaks for rent. This is a cheap way to explore the coastlines and can get your arms that much-needed workout.

5. Explore the beaches

Similar to Kapas Island, there are several beaches in Perhentian Kecil which are connected via pathways in the jungle. So you can allot a single afternoon to visit the beaches, which includes: Long Beach and Coral Bay, Romantic Beach, Rainforest Beach, Adam & Eve Beach, Turtle Bay, D’Lagoon, Mira Beach, and Petani Beach.

Rainforest Beach in Perhentian Kecil
Rainforest Beach.
Mira Beach, Perhentian Kecil, Malaysia
Mira Beach.
Petani Beach, Perhentian Kecil, Malaysia
Petani Beach.

Make sure to bring water with you because trekking can be tiring. You can also hire a water taxi to get from one beach to another.

6. Witness sea turtles lay eggs

There is a nesting population of sea turtles in Perhentian Islands. If you visit between June and September, you might be lucky to find sea green and hawksbill turtles laying eggs on undisturbed shores.

There is also a conservation organization for the turtles.

7. Nature watch

If you like going on a nature watch, just head to the jungle and follow the trails. Perhentian Islands is home to migratory birds. If you’re staying in Perhentian Besar, you can also see giant monitor lizards and monkeys.

View from trail in Perhentian Kecil
View from jungle trail in Perhentian Kecil.

8. Trek to the windmill

Head to the northside of Long Beach. Behind Bubu Resort, you can find a trail that leads to a windmill. The trek takes only around 30 minutes and offers a breathtaking view of the rugged coastlines of the island and the South China Sea.

9. Eat in a beachside restaurant

Head to Coral Bay and get seated in one of the beachside restaurants where you can enjoy grilled seafood for reasonable fees.

10. Party up in Long Beach

Long Beach is notorious for its nightlife. Enjoy a nightly movie screening in Panorama or Matahari, watch fire dancing, and enjoy a taste of “Monkey Juice”, a home-made local rum.

For the bars, the most popular ones are OhLaLa Bar, Monkey Bar, and Beach Bar.

Where to stay in Perhentian Islands

You can find various kinds of accommodations, including campsites, hostels, and resorts in both islands. Here are the most recommended ones.

Perhentian Besar

  • Perhentian View: Book via Agoda
  • Coral View Island Resort: Book via Agoda

Perhentian Kecil

  • Bubu Resort: Book via Agoda
  • Alunan resort: Book via Agoda
  • Mimpi Perhentian: Book via Agoda

I stayed in Orang Hutan Camping Site. This is a good option if you’re looking for a budget-friendly stay or into nature camping. Personally, I would have preferred staying in Long Beach where it’s easy to find restaurants and book tours but at that time everywhere else was booked.

Orang Hutan campsite, Perhentian Kecil, Malaysia
Orang Hutan campsite.
  • Pros: Quiet as it’s located in the jungle, minutes from Rainforest Beach, great food, welcoming & friendly staff. There are nightly gatherings where you can mingle with fellow travelers. Also, they have cats.
  • Cons: Requires a few minutes of trekking to reach campsite, there are mosquitoes in late afternoon.

You can book Orang Hutan Camping Site: via Agoda.

3 Days itinerary in Perhentian Islands

Here’s a sample 3 days itinerary in Perhentian Islands.

Day 0
– Take overnight bus from Kuala Lumpur to Kuala Besut

Day 1
– Arrival in Kuala Besut
– Get to jetty and go on a fast boat to Perhentian Kecil
– Check in accommodation
– Explore the beaches

Day 2
– Snorkeling tour (long trip)
– Windmill hike

Day 3
– Island hopping trip
– Get the last boat back to the mainland
– Overnight bus back to Kuala Lumpur

This is the itinerary that I made for my long-weekend trip. I prefer to take the bus because it’s cheaper and I can sleep during the commute.

Budget and expenses

To give you an idea, here’s a breakdown of estimated expenses.

Transfers (Round-trip) Bus from Kuala Lumpur to Kuala Besut: RM90
(Round-trip) Boat to Perhentian Kecil: RM70
AccommodationAround RM60 per night
ActivitiesKayak rental: RM15 per hour
Snorkeling and island hopping tour: RM50-60 per person
PADI certification: around RM950-1200 (3-4 days)
FoodRM5-15 per meal

So basically, RM500 for 3 days is a safe budget if you’re traveling alone.

Has this budget travel guide to Perhentian Island been helpful to you? Post your comments below!

What to read next:

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2 Comments

  1. Katerine, indeed you made a great article about Perhentian, I do confirm that it is worthy to visit it, even though my experience was only with Perhentian kecil. However, on the east coast of MY there are more gorgeous islands, e.g. Kapas island 🙂

    Giuseppe

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